Social Development Ministry: Disabled mother still receiving welfare

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FILE PHOTO: Olanda Speedwell at her apartment on Leon Street, Laventille, in September. Photo by Sureash Cholai

The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services says 36-year-old Olanda Speedwell is still a client of the ministry, having received a public assistance grant in December 2022 after her disability grant was discontinued in May 2022.

The ministry was responding to a December 22 Newsday article entitled Disabled Mother of three kicked off of welfare for selling water.

In a release on Wednesday, it said the disability grant for Speedwell, who is a mother of three living in Laventille, was discontinued, “when it was discovered and verified, that she was able to earn a living and may not in fact be permanently disabled and unable to earn a livelihood, in accordance with the law and policy.”

The release said Speedwell was asked to asked to submit an updated medical report for the disability assistance grant.

“It should be noted that this grant is reviewed every six months. She recently submitted a public assistance medical report which is valid for one year.

“The report indicated that she is not permanently disabled, suggesting that she is capable of earning a living and may just require support for one more year. Her public assistance grant was therefore reinstated and was paid for December.”

According to the ministry’s website, the disability assistance grant “provides financial assistance to citizens and legal residents of Trinidad and Tobago who are medically certified as being permanently disabled from earning and cannot be employed,” while the public assistance grant “is provided to meet the needs of persons where the household income is deemed inadequate, including an individual 18 years and over, who is certified by a government medical officer as unable to earn a living due to physical or mental disability.”

Speedwell used to get a $2,000 disability assistance grant from the Public Assistance Board, and sold water in order to supplement the grant, to the tune of $150 a day. In April, a welfare officer saw her selling water and said she was not supposed to be earning a secondary income while on disability.

In a letter dated July 7, 2022, Speedwell was informed that her grant was discontinued because “claimant is earning and does not meet the criteria for the disability grant.”

The letter said that discontinuation would take effect from May 2022.

Wednesday’s release further stated that Speedwell continues to receive the public assistance grant for her three children effective October, 2022, having submitted the school reports and other information for the children in September.

“Speedwell recently received approval for four pairs of glasses under the ministry’s general assistance grants effective December 22, 2022 for herself and all three children.

“The ministry will continue to work with her to determine if she is eligible for other grants such as the SEED grant, which is designed for persons like Speedwell, who wish to become entrepreneurs and create better livelihoods for themselves and their family.”

The ministry says it has been diligently conducting reviews all of the grants it administers.

It said its investigations had revealed that there were many clients receiving disability grants who are gainfully employed and meeting their statutory payments of national insurance and income tax as an employee. There are several others who are the owners of thriving small businesses and are receiving grants.

“The ministry is well aware that clients do not return to its office to disclose improved changes in their economic conditions.

“The ministry must therefore remain vigilant in its review of all its grants. Persons who are earning above the minimum are not eligible for the grant.”

Attempts to contact the ministry on Wednesday to find out the process by which Speedwell was determined to be able to earn a living and not be permanently disabled were unsuccessful.

Attempts to contact Speedwell on Wednesday were also unsuccessful.